“What kind of glasses should we serve the port in?” I asked my husband the other day. We were having a few friends over for after dinner cheese, chocolate and port, and the only small glasses we have hold about one or two ounces and were meant for liqueur, I think.
He went out into the garage, opened a box and brought out eight of these stems:
That gold leaf!
My memory clicked in a big way. These and the matching wine glasses belonged to his paternal grandmother. When he and I were young newlyweds, the wine glasses appeared at his mother’s holiday dinners filled with what we now call “Dago Red”–a jug wine that actually did come in a jug. I couldn’t stop staring at the gold leaf rims and as I did I remembered us all as 20-somethings and younger at Sunday dinners, crammed into his Aunt Fran’s tiny tract house about a mile and half from where I grew up.
In the reflection of the glass I could see his mother jumping up and down to get plates and refresh drinks. I breathed in the aroma of Aunt Fran’s tomato sauce, tasted the sharp white vinegar that dressed the iceberg lettuce salad and I saw myself as a 20-year-old sitting on M’s lap in the tiny, overheated den because there were so many of us that we didn’t all fit. Conversation buzzed. The house got warmer, especially in winter. Aunt Laura presided at the kitchen table spouting charismatic Catholic propaganda. Her sisters exchanged glances and rolled their eyes. The rest of us ignored her, intent on whatever young people were intent on at that time, probably ourselves.
For most married couples our age using family crystal stemware isn’t a big deal. But M. and I have been married to one another twice, 26 years apart, and back in 1980 when we divorced after almost nine years of marriage, I never thought I’d see those glasses again. Now, some 40 years later, they sit on my kitchen counter, the dust washed off them, waiting for a slug of dessert wine. And they were at least 40 years old then, if not older.
Back in our younger days I would have thought them too formal, too irrelevant to our casual lifestyle. In our young adulthood, we had no idea what port tasted like. But now, I’m happy to pair these gold-rimmed stems with my more modern dessert plates and enjoy the history and the memories that go with them even better than a fine Stilton cheese.
Digging around in his boxes, M. found something else, too. These beautiful vintage glasses also belonged to his grandmother.
There’s a punt on the bottom, so you’d think maybe it was a wine tumbler (in our culture wine was often consumed from tumblers or drinking glasses.) But his family also used them for grappa. We’re not grappa drinkers. I’ll probably serve wine from them one day, but they were so pretty, I wanted to use them right away. What better to fill them than roses from the garden? Below is a closeup of the pattern.
Makes me want to sing “Crystal blue persuasion”
They make perfect bud vases. And you know how I love my flowers!
Don’t the glasses make lovely bud vases?
Again, gold leaf, very “guinea,” as my husband calls it. “Guinea” is a pejorative for an Italian. An insult. But as Sicilian-Americans ourselves we use it among ourselves to describe things that are typical of blue-collar Italian thinking. For example, when we married in 1972 my mother tried to convince me that a fountain that flowed pink and purple champagne was a good idea. That’s “guinea.” (She failed to convince me.) Back where I come from, men from my culture sometimes call women “broads.” Yeah. Still. That’s “guinea.” You get it. But don’t you use it unless you’re guinea. Like us.
Gilt or gold leaf? Guinea! Yep, you’ve got it now.
They may be guinea, but we love them. Just a single bloom of any color looks beautiful in these glasses.
We’re saving these for M’s niece and nephew, but I have many friends who have things like this they want to get rid of. Depression glass, milk-glass–you know–all those collectibles that gather dust at this stage of life. If you’ve got stuff like that you need to re-home, why not pop a bloom in one and make it a gift? Mother’s Day. Birthday. Promotion. Retirement. Or keep it close, like I have.
By the way, that Tommy James and the Shondells song, Crystal Blue Persuasion was popular in that era. In fact, it came out the year M. and I met in college.
Oh and if you really, REALLY want to see something that truly defines “guinea,” well, this video does it. You might keep the volume up to hear my conversation with the salesman.
Sometimes, well, a video is worth a thousand words. This is one of those times. Watch the video, then come back to finish reading the post.